By Brian Shea
[Editor’s Note: Joel Murphy is out buying copious amounts of eggnog, so today we bring you a special guest blog post by former HoboTrashcan columnist Brian Shea.]
In recent years, we have learned more about how television ratings work than we probably ever needed to know. We have been told that whatever precedes a show (i.e the lead in) has a significant effect on how a show does. We had this beat over our heads during the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno fiasco.
So if this is indeed true, if we as Americans are so lazy that we will watch something simply because we were watching the thing before it, how the hell do five million people get the idea to overcome this laziness when Modern Family ends on Wednesday nights and Cougar Town begins?
I don’t really know how my man crush on Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence developed. I always loved Scrubs and really enjoyed his commentary on some of the early season DVDs. Then, as Scrubs headed toward its conclusion … and its second conclusion … Lawrence decided to sit down with influential TV bloggers and just open up about the process which determines what shows get on TV and how they stay there.
He had a refreshing and honest outlook on the weirdness that is television entertainment. When a guy says part of the impetus to keeping his show alive is to employ the crew he has become friends with, you can’t help but like that guy.
I also found out that we are the same age and, if not for some very short-sighted thinking by the admissions officer at the College of William and Mary who waitlisted me instead of admitting me, we would have become best friends in college, and I would be his right-hand man today. It was destiny if not for that one decision back in 1986.
So when Scrubs wrapped up and the awfully-titled (admitted by even Lawrence) Cougar Town debuted, I got excited. I could not wait for Lawrence’s new creation. In reality, I should have waited because the show got off to a rocky start. But after a half-dozen episodes or so, something very good happened.
The premise of Courteney Cox’s character Jules being a cougar who bedded young men went out the window for a goofy, inside-joke driven ensemble comedy about Jules and her friends. The power of this development is why I can’t believe those five million people turn off the television each week.
This takes me back to the way my crush on Lawrence developed. In the commentary tracks of the first few seasons of Scrubs, he had a chance to look back at the things they had done and why they stuck with some gags and got away from others. You could tell he didn’t just do the commentary track for the heck of it. He really wanted to let the viewer know about the show.
So I know that in the first season or so of Scrubs, they had a ton of sound effects. You heard a whip when people turned their head quickly. Cartoon running sounds indicated the need for a quick escape. The exaggerated smack of a hand accompanied high-fives from The Todd.
At some point, Lawrence realized he didn’t need the first two of those. The thing with Todd needed to stay, but they looked at whether the writing and acting was goofy enough and determined the sound effects were simply overkill. They slowly evolved the show as they went along from week to week.
In this day and age when some shows only get one or two weeks to show their stuff, the ability of people like Bill Lawrence to pull this off cannot be understated. Sometimes, you have to give a team of writers and actors a while to get a feel for how the show works. They’re making freaking TV shows based on web sites. Can we have a little patience in development?
Since Lawrence had the credibility to keep Cougar Town on the air, his team had a chance to make the transition from what they pitched into what made people laugh. I worried about the original premise, but now look forward to 9:30 on Wednesday nights almost as much as 9 p.m. You should too.
You’re missing a group of people greeting each other like a hibachi chef when someone enters the room just because it sounds funny. You’re missing a group of guys bonding over a game called Penny Can. You don’t get a chance to enjoy Christa Miller’s eye rolls and snarky jokes that made her such a great addition to the Scrubs cast.
Cougar Town gets seven million viewers now, which is nothing to sneeze at. But Modern Family gets 12 million and The Middle, another show I think people don’t rate highly enough, gets nine million. So, for the love of God, keep the TV on after Modern Family. You don’t know what you are missing.
Brian Shea used to write for HoboTrashcan, but like Gladys Knight, he left us Pips behind to write for his own site, Regular Guy Column.